What Is It Like to Attend Cornell?

October 7, 2023
By AdmissionSight
Happy students walking together.

What Is It Like to Attend Cornell?

Nestled in the heart of Ithaca, New York, Cornell offers a unique blend of experiences that shape the lives of its students in profound ways. But what is it like to be a part of this prestigious community? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead? And most importantly, is Cornell the right fit for you?

This article will peel back the layers of this esteemed institution to give you an insider’s perspective on what it is like to attend Cornell. From the intricacies of mental health to the nitty-gritty of financial planning, from the vibrant social scene to the demanding academic life, we aim to provide a comprehensive guide that answers your most pressing questions.

Whether you’re a prospective student eager to make an informed decision or a curious reader interested in the Ivy League experience, this article is your roadmap to understanding the multifaceted reality of life at Cornell.

Understanding Cornell University’s History and Prestige

The roots of the prestigious Cornell University go more profound than its founding date, and its reputation is well-earned through decades of academic excellence.

But what makes Cornell University genuinely unique is its rich history and commitment to inclusivity. Let’s delve deeper into the founding of this esteemed institution and explore its reputation in the academic world.

The Founding of Cornell University

Cornell University was founded in 1865 by Ezra Cornell, a former telegraph magnate and philanthropist, and Andrew Dickson White, a respected scholar and politician. The idea was to foster an institution where “anyone can find instruction in any study,” thus becoming the first university to admit students regardless of race or gender equality in the United States.

The Ezra Cornell statue on campus of Cornell University

This groundbreaking vision was a testament to Cornell’s commitment to providing equal educational opportunities for all. It set the stage for a university embracing diversity and promoting intellectual growth without discrimination. Today, Cornell continues to uphold these values, attracting students from various backgrounds and cultures.

Cornell’s Reputation in the Academic World

As an Ivy League member, Cornell boasts a worldwide reputation for academic and research excellence. Its commitment to rigorous scholarship and intellectual exploration has solidified its position as a leading institution.

One of Cornell’s greatest assets is its vast library collection, among the largest in the United States. With over 8 million volumes, it is a treasure trove of knowledge, facilitating research and learning in many disciplines. Students and scholars can access extensive resources, ensuring that a wealth of information supports their academic pursuits.

Furthermore, Cornell University has produced numerous trailblazers, leaders, and innovators across various fields. The Cornell community has significantly contributed to society, from Nobel laureates to Pulitzer Prize winners. The university’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies and collaborative research has fostered an environment where groundbreaking discoveries and transformative ideas flourish.

The Academic Experience at Cornell

A rigorous academic environment and diverse study options make Cornell a hotbed for intellectual growth. Cornell University’s educational experience is characterized by a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere that fosters intellectual curiosity and encourages students to push the boundaries of knowledge. With a rich history of academic excellence, Cornell has established itself as a leading institution in higher education.

One of the critical factors that set Cornell apart is its extensive range of courses and majors. With seven undergraduate colleges and schools offering more than 4,000 courses across 100 academic departments, students have an unparalleled opportunity to explore their interests and pursue their passions. Whether it’s delving into the intricacies of astrophysics or immersing oneself in the world of literature, Cornell caters to a wide range of academic preferences and career aspirations.

Students at Cornell enjoy the freedom to design their unique academic path backed by robust guidance and support systems. The university provides comprehensive advising services to help students navigate various educational options and make informed course selections. This personalized approach ensures that each student’s academic journey is tailored to their goals and aspirations.

Range of Courses and Majors

With a diverse range of courses and majors, Cornell University offers students an unparalleled opportunity to explore their academic interests and pursue their passions. The highly-ranked College of Engineering provides aspiring engineers with a rigorous and cutting-edge curriculum. At the same time, the world-renowned School of Hotel Administration offers a comprehensive program for those interested in the hospitality industry.

View of computer engineers working on a project.


Cornell’s academic departments cover various disciplines, from the humanities to the sciences. Students can choose from multiple majors, including but not limited to biology, economics, psychology, computer science, and history. This breadth of options allows students to tailor their education to their interests and career goals.

Moreover, Cornell’s commitment to interdisciplinary learning enables students to explore the intersections between different fields of study. By combining knowledge from multiple disciplines, students gain a holistic understanding of complex issues and develop critical thinking skills to tackle real-world challenges.

Students also have the opportunity to engage in research, which is a vital component of Cornell’s academic experience. The university provides state-of-the-art laboratories, research equipment, and faculty mentors at the forefront of their respective fields. Whether studying life sciences, physical sciences, or humanities, Cornellians have ample opportunity to further their understanding through well-supported research initiatives.

Research Opportunities

Research is deeply ingrained in the fabric of Cornell University. Students are encouraged to participate in research projects and contribute to advancing knowledge in their chosen fields. Through hands-on experience and collaboration with faculty, students develop critical research skills and gain a deeper appreciation for the inquiry process.

Cornell’s research opportunities extend beyond the boundaries of the campus. The university has partnered with leading research institutions and organizations worldwide, providing students access to a global network of experts and resources. This global perspective enhances students’ understanding of their chosen fields and prepares them to tackle complex global challenges.

Whether conducting experiments in a state-of-the-art laboratory, analyzing data, or presenting research findings at conferences, Cornell students actively pursue knowledge and contribute to advancing their respective fields.

Faculty and Teaching Style

At Cornell University, students can learn from some of the brightest minds in academia. The faculty at Cornell boasts Nobel laureates, Pulitzer prize winners, and world-renowned researchers who bring in-depth knowledge and unique insights into the classrooms.

Female teacher talking to her students.

With a small student-to-faculty ratio, students at Cornell receive individual attention and personalized guidance from their professors. This close interaction allows for meaningful mentorship and fosters a supportive learning environment where students can thrive academically.

The teaching style at Cornell is characterized by its emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, and intellectual growth. Rather than simply memorizing facts and regurgitating information, students are encouraged to think critically, analyze complex problems, and develop innovative solutions. The interactive nature of the classes promotes active engagement and stimulates intellectual curiosity.

Furthermore, Cornell’s commitment to inclusive excellence ensures that students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives feel valued and supported in their academic pursuits. The university recognizes the importance of diversity in fostering creativity, innovation, and intellectual growth.

Campus Life at Cornell

Campus life at Cornell is a blend of academic rigor, diverse recreational activities, and peer-rich engagement. The university strives to create a supportive environment where students can learn and grow.

At Cornell, campus life goes beyond just academics. The university understands the importance of providing students with a well-rounded experience encompassing various aspects of their lives.

One aspect of campus life that Cornell takes pride in is its housing and dining options. The university offers a range of housing options, from traditional dormitories to cooperative houses. Each option provides a unique experience, catering to individual preferences and ensuring students have a comfortable stay at the institution.

When it comes to dining, Cornell is nationally recognized for its high-quality cuisine. The university’s dining halls offer various food options that suit different dietary needs and preferences. Whether students are looking for a quick bite between classes or a sit-down meal with friends, Cornell Dining has something for everyone.

Clubs, Sports, and Extracurricular Activities

With over 1,000 student organizations ranging from academic clubs to performing arts groups, Cornell offers many opportunities to explore interests outside the classroom. Students can join clubs related to their majors, allowing them to connect with like-minded individuals and deepen their knowledge in their respective fields.

For those passionate about sports, Cornell’s sports division, known as Cornell Big Red, competes in the Ivy League across various sports. Whether students want to join a varsity team or participate in intramural sports, Cornell provides ample opportunities to get involved and stay active.

Extracurricular activities at Cornell are not just about building a resume. They allow students to build leadership skills, foster creativity, and create lifelong friendships. Whether joining a debate team, participating in community service projects, or performing in a theater production, students at Cornell can find activities that align with their interests and passions.

The Social Scene at Cornell

The university’s commitment to fostering a vibrant, inclusive social atmosphere has shaped its unique social scene. Cornell University takes pride in its diverse student body, which consists of students from around the globe.

This melting pot of cultures, perspectives, and experiences creates a dynamic and enriching environment. Cornell’s Office of Diversity Initiatives works tirelessly to provide supportive services to underrepresented groups, ensuring that every Cornellian feels welcomed and represented.

With its commitment to diversity and inclusion, Cornell University has created a cultural mosaic that enhances students’ social experiences and contributes to an inclusive and understanding environment. Students can engage with individuals from different backgrounds, learn from their experiences, and broaden their horizons.

Diversity and Inclusion

The Office of Diversity Initiatives at Cornell University promotes diversity and inclusion on campus. It organizes various programs and initiatives to foster a sense of belonging among students from underrepresented groups. These initiatives include mentorship programs, cultural awareness workshops, and diversity-focused events.

Students smiling at the camera together.

Furthermore, Cornell University actively recruits and supports faculty members from diverse backgrounds, ensuring students can access various perspectives and expertise. This commitment to diversity extends beyond the student body and permeates every aspect of the university.

Greek Life and Social Events

Greek life is an integral part of the social scene at Cornell University. With over 60 fraternity and sorority chapters, students can join organizations that align with their interests and values. Greek life offers social opportunities and opportunities for leadership, community service, and personal growth.

In addition to Greek life, Cornell University hosts various social events yearly. These events include student-led concerts, art exhibitions, and guest speaker series. Students can engage with renowned artists, intellectuals, and activists, enhancing their college experience.

Moreover, the university encourages student organizations to organize their events, providing a platform for students to showcase their talents and interests. Something from cultural festivals to academic conferences always happens on campus to cater to diverse interests.

How Do Students Navigate Mental Health?

Navigating mental health is a labyrinthine journey, often shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding, especially in the high-pressure environment of an Ivy League institution like Cornell. The university, aware of the mental toll that rigorous academics can take, offers many resources to support students’ mental well-being.

From the Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to various peer support groups, students have multiple avenues to seek help. Yet, the question remains: are these resources enough? While some students find solace in therapy sessions and mindfulness workshops, others turn to less conventional methods like art therapy, outdoor excursions, or pet therapy with therapy dogs on campus.

The key takeaway is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, and what works for one individual may not be effective for another. This complex tapestry of coping mechanisms and support systems is a crucial part of what it is like to attend Cornell.

The Importance of Mental Health: An Unspoken Issue

The importance of mental health is often an unspoken issue, lurking in the shadows of academic achievements and extracurricular accolades. The silence surrounding this topic is deafening and detrimental, creating an environment where students may feel isolated in their struggles.

Cornell has made strides in bringing mental health to the forefront with initiatives like “Let’s Talk,” which provides informal, confidential consultations with counselors. However, the stigma persists, often perpetuated by the very culture of excellence that Cornell fosters.

It’s a paradox that students find hard to escape: the drive to excel academically can sometimes be the very thing that deteriorates mental health. Breaking this cycle requires a collective effort from the university, students, and faculty.

Conversations need to be had, stories need to be shared, and mental health needs to be prioritized. This is another facet of what it is like to attend Cornell, a reality that prospective students should be aware of when considering this esteemed institution.

Balancing Act: Juggling Academics and Well-being

Ah, the eternal balancing act: juggling academics and well-being is akin to walking a tightrope, where even the slightest misstep can lead to a fall. The key to maintaining this precarious balance lies in self-awareness and time management.

Cornell offers workshops on stress management and study techniques aimed at equipping students with the tools they need to succeed without sacrificing their mental health. But let’s not sugarcoat it; the journey is fraught with challenges. Midterms, finals, and deadlines can create a vortex of stress that is hard to escape.

Yet, during these times, the importance of self-care comes into sharp focus. Whether taking a short hike in the gorges, engaging in a yoga session, or simply enjoying a cup of tea, small acts of self-care can have a significant impact.

Students often form support networks, sharing tips and resources to help each other navigate the academic rigors while also taking time to recharge mentally. This intricate dance between academics and well-being is yet another layer of what it is like to attend Cornell.

What Are the Financial Aspects to Consider?

When pondering the dream of attending an Ivy League institution like Cornell, the financial aspects often loom large, casting a shadow over the excitement of academic and social opportunities. It’s not just tuition; it’s also room and board, textbooks, personal expenses, and the often-overlooked cost of networking events and club memberships.

Group of students walking in the campus.

These expenses can quickly add up, making financial planning an essential part of your college journey. Cornell offers a variety of financial aid options, including need-based grants, scholarships, and work-study programs aimed at making education more accessible.

However, reading the fine print, understanding the terms, and considering the long-term implications are crucial. For instance, while loans may provide immediate relief, they come with the burden of future repayments. Understanding these financial intricacies is a vital part of what it is like to attend Cornell, and it’s a topic that demands as much attention as your academic choices.

Tuition and Scholarships: The Numbers Game

Ah, the numbers game—tuition and scholarships are often the most discussed yet least understood aspects of college life. As of the 2022-2023 academic year, the education for an undergraduate student at Cornell is approximately $60,286, not including room and board, which can add another $15,000 or so.

These numbers can be overwhelming, but here’s where scholarships come into play. Cornell offers a range of merit-based and need-based scholarships that can significantly offset these costs. The university also accepts external scholarships, so scouring the internet for opportunities can be incredibly rewarding.

However, securing a scholarship often requires more than academic excellence; it involves crafting compelling essays, gathering solid letters of recommendation, and meeting stringent deadlines. This competitive and often stressful process is another layer of what it is like to attend Cornell, a reality that underscores the importance of early and thorough financial planning.

Part-time Jobs and Internships: Earning While Learning

“Earning while learning” takes on a whole new dimension at Cornell. The university’s work-study program and many part-time job opportunities offer students a chance to gain practical experience while earning some extra cash.

From research assistant positions to roles in the hospitality sector, the options are as diverse as they are enriching. But it’s not just about the money; these experiences provide invaluable life skills, networking opportunities, and potential pathways to full-time employment after graduation.

Internships, often available through Cornell’s extensive alum network, offer another avenue for financial relief and career development. These internships can range from summer roles at tech giants to semester-long stints at non-profits, each providing unique experiences and challenges.

Balancing a part-time job or internship with academic responsibilities requires excellent time management skills, but the financial and experiential rewards make it worthwhile. This dynamic of working while studying is an integral part of what it is like to attend Cornell.


As we reach the end of this comprehensive exploration, you’ve gained a multi-faceted understanding of what it is like to attend Cornell. From the academic rigors that push you to the boundaries of your intellectual capabilities to the vibrant social scene that offers a reprieve from the demands of study, Cornell is a world in itself—a microcosm of opportunities, challenges, and transformative experiences. You’ve also delved into the often-overlooked yet crucial aspects like mental health and financial planning, which can significantly shape your college experience.

Ready to Make Your Cornell Dream a Reality? Let AdmissionSight Guide You!

You’ve just delved deep into the complexities, opportunities, and challenges of life at Cornell University. You now have a nuanced understanding of what it is like to attend Cornell. But perhaps you’re wondering, “How do I take the next step? How do I turn this dream into my reality?”

That’s where AdmissionSight comes in. We specialize in helping high-achieving students like you navigate the intricate maze of college admissions. With our expertise in crafting compelling essays, preparing for interviews, and strategizing for standardized tests, we aim to make your journey to Cornell—or any other top-tier university—as smooth as possible.

Don’t leave your Ivy League dreams to chance. Let AdmissionSight be your guiding light on this transformative journey.

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